Archery Lessons

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Everybody knows Mars. He’s the hulking, ominously silent biker every fool assumes will be on their side in a bar fight. A lot of people slip Mars a twenty or a pack of smokes while gesturing furtively toward the intended recipient of an ass-kicking. Not too many people walk up to him, bow deeply, and say, “Teach me, Sensei.”

They should.

That bar fight wasn’t won in the two seconds it took to swing a chair. It was won in the twenty years of experience that preceded it.

In his later years, Picasso drew a sketch in five minutes and said that it had taken him a lifetime to draw it. Picasso, ever self-identified with the bullfighter, knew Mars.

The discipline, the precision, the daily practice toward an intended outcome: these are the traits of a soldier. For that soldier, these habits can mean the difference between life and death.  Not so for the rest of us. Artists, engineers, parents: we don’t live in foxholes. We’re safe. For us, discipline and practice aren’t important. They’re only the difference between life and death for our goals and dreams. We downplay it. We act like life isn’t a war zone. We pretend it’s not pistols at dawn against entropy, but it is. Every. Damn. Day.

The samurai cultivates a posture of preparedness. An attitude of adapting to the moment can be used in reaction to everyday circumstances, situations, even thoughts.

 

Like many creative people, I often suffer from idea overload. Call it metaphorical mercury poisoning. I’m better at starting projects than at finishing them. I know that Mars can be invoked for drive and completion of action, but as a peace-loving Libra, I hesitated to invite him to my party. (Quick! Hide the pool cues and bar stools!) However, hermeticism involves paying calls on all the planetary spheres, so I, ahem, rang his bell.

And a teacher opened the door.

He knows how to aim, and he knows precisely when to let the arrow fly. And he makes his students repeat it until they get it right.

If you need the daily persistence to pursue mastery:

Enso Zen Circle

combined with an eye for trajectory:

arrow resized

I think you know whose bell to ring.

Mars symbol

Draw the lamen; conjure the archangel; recite the Orphic hymn. Then, wait. Contemplate the seals of Mars. Have your target in sight, because he’s bringing arrows.

 

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The Books that Made Me: Part I

Everyone remembers them. The pages that rise up in your mind. The characters that give advice.  The illustrations that collage themselves of their own accord and wallpaper your dreams.

Ten years old. A small school in Montana. A classroom of twenty students, which was the entire fifth and sixth grades combined. The teacher had two shelves of children’s novels that we could check out for our assigned silent reading periods. I had never heard of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I read it in two days. Later that week I got into a physical altercation with another student over who got to check out The Magician’s Nephew first. I spent the next year quickly opening doors and looking around corners, trying to glimpse another world before it disappeared. For me it was old-fashioned escapism, a way to leave poverty and boredom behind. I wanted to become a mad scientist, like Digory’s uncle but with a better ending. I thought science could find a gateway to the magic that I wished could somehow be real. It would be nine years before I encountered it in the field.

Twelve years old. Our science teacher assigned an oral report in which we had to choose a constellation and research each of its major stars, as well as the mythology behind its name. I chose Pegasus because, well, I was a twelve-year-old girl and it was a flying horse. Having neither internet nor mythology books, I pulled out the Encyclopedia Britannica. At the end of the article on Pegasus, there was the notation, “See also: BELLEROPHON, MEDUSA, POSEIDON.” By the end of the night, I had hauled out at least six encyclopedia volumes, some only tangentially related to the topic at hand. A research fiend had been born. Over the next few years, I read every mythology-related article I could find in that encyclopedia set, and explored many other topics as well. Fifteen years later, while reading Occidental Mythology for the first time, I smiled at the illustration of the Minoan snake goddess. I recognized her from my encyclopedia-foraging days.

Fourteen years old. By this point I had read every kids’ book my family owned multiple times. I dug through my parents’ boxes of college textbooks in desperation. Why one of them had a copy of Goethe’s Faust, I’ll never know. I dragged the old typewriter out of the attic and typed out my favorite quotes. Summoning a demon seemed thrilling and dangerous, but with archaic language and woodcut illustrations, it was far enough removed to be innocuous.  I wouldn’t have dared to read what my classmates were reading: Stephen King, V.C. Andrews, R.L. Stine. I had been very sheltered from media violence, and my parents were incredibly strict about our exposure to secular influences. Looking back, I can’t believe how much magical knowledge slipped under the radar and into my mind during that period. While the goth kids at school were listening to Ministry and cursing people by burning their photos, my parents breathed easily knowing their nerdy kid was upstairs reading the encyclopedia… you know, learning about divination with runes, Aztec sacrifices, and watching Faust conjure Mephistopheles.

I had a set of illustrated and abridged children’s classics that I returned to in my teen years. The Count of Monte Cristo presented me with my ideal picture of a scholar: secreted away in a remote cell, focused completely on learning sciences and languages from a brilliant mentor. And of course I could think of a few people on whom to enact delicious revenge. The Wizard of Oz has haunted me through the decades. The habit of opening doors and curtains that I picked up in my C.S. Lewis days had by this point extended to my observations of religions and social mores.  How many throne rooms have I entered only to find an automated talking head, with a muffled voice saying, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”?

Fifteen years old. My high school had a library. Or at least, a very tiny copy of one. I believe it had four stacks to serve its 200 students. One of the stacks was mostly Danielle Steele novels, which in retrospect leads me to assume that the school had a very small book budget and accepted donations indiscriminately.  The classic literature section was just a couple shelves, but I didn’t dare bring Ms. Steele into my parents’ house, so I found myself reading the classic titles one by one.  The Satanic Verses looked scary. My parents would probably send me for counseling if they caught me reading it. To its right stood The Fellowship of the Ring.  That one looked safer, so I took it home.  [Sidebar: Let that sink in. You know it’s a tiny library when there’s nothing between Rushdie and Tolkien.] I read The Two Towers over Christmas break of 1995. I had to explain what it was about to all my cousins. No one in my town had heard of it. I finished the series in January. I loved the poetry and the mythical references. I broke out the encyclopedia again and compared Tolkien’s runic alphabet to the Old Norse elder futhark. Having moved thirteen times by the time I was thirteen years old, I could identify with Frodo and Sam’s life on the road, being cold, alone, and sometimes a little hungry. Suffering from seasonal depression, I could identify with spending months struggling towards Mount Doom. Experiencing night terrors and hag attacks, I knew just what it meant to be alone in a dark, wild forest. I still count it as the realest fantasy I’ve ever read.

After Tolkien, there was Brave New World, and I suspected that my classmates were socially engineered idiots. Then I got my driver’s license and drove myself to the town library. Again, Danielle Steele. But at least this place also had Michael Crichton. I read The SphereThe Andromeda Strain, Eaters of the Dead, and more. I remembered my childhood dream of becoming a mad scientist. In my mind this was a cross between an astronomer and a chemist. The “mad” part came from not quite focusing on this world, constantly searching for a new discovery either way out in the macrocosm or deep inside the microcosm.

The Crichton selection exhausted, a book on the next shelf down caught my eye based on its sheer width. It was easily three times the thickness of its neighbors. As long as it wasn’t horror or romance, I knew I was going to read that bad boy. And thus I spent six months slogging through Les Misérables. Other than the long political descriptions, I loved it. There were people in the world who were worse off than me. Some of them made it out of their hellholes, and some of them didn’t.  It was a matter of will and chance. Not much magic in Victor Hugo’s world.

Looking back, will and chance were the two main force-fields that dictated how books formed me in those childhood years. It was only by chance that I encountered the formative books that I did. I never had an adult mentor put a book in my hands and say, “This is awesome. You should read it.” I had no older siblings to follow, and my few friends were sensible, non-curious people. But when the opportunity for knowledge occasionally presented itself, I had the will to pursue it. 

After those heavily-censored, information-starved high school years, I found myself in a parent-free land flowing with books and ideas: college. And that’s a post of its own.

Elements in Social Media

I recently read an article on using social media for advertising in which the writer chose to focus on the big four social media platforms: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.  Now, anytime somebody says there are four kinds of X, I put on my hermetic goggles and take a look.  Sometimes the elemental or directional correspondences are there, sometimes not. Forcing data into a set of unfit correspondences works as well as putting my favorite opera singer in skinny jeans.  She can’t sing right in that getup! In the case of social media platforms, three out of four can rock the elemental look. The fourth kinda fits, as long as it doesn’t have to bend over to pick something up.    (Is this an indication that it will eventually be displaced by a more fitting platform? We can only hope)

Twitter as Air

Come on. The logo is a bird. I will always start with the slow pitch. Twitter is all about the exchange of ideas, and the quicker the better.  Developing news stories, play-by-play sports games, the productivity hacks your coworker shares.  A tweet’s life is measured in minutes, not years. If you pre-write your tweets to autopost later, it is suggested that you schedule them to go live during your audience’s morning and evening commutes.  Exchanging ideas while traveling to a place of commerce? Hello, Mercury!

Instagram as Water

This place can be fascinating in the literal, liminal, dangerous sense. You’re set adrift on a sea of heavily filtered images. The Instagram logo itself is dominated by the black camera lens, a perfect scrying surface. People don’t come here to discuss current ideas or trade witty banter. Here there be likes and loves and shares. All the feels! Users curate images to tug at a viewer’s heartstrings: sleeping babies, perfect morning coffees, afghans and books, sunsets and margaritas. Beware though, like Narcissus, many young men and women have peered into Instagram and remain there, staring at their own reflections. #selfie 

Facebook as Fire

This is the one who’s stuffed into his little brother’s pants.  It’s not a perfect fit. Like Instagram, Facebook can be emotional.  Like Twitter, it’s a place for discussion and ideas. But it’s slower than Twitter, and more verbal than Instagram. Twitter’s airiness and Instagram’s dreaminess are their strengths, but the combustion I’ve seen on Facebook is a definite weakness.  While Twitter can be volatile, Facebook is downright inflammatory. This is the where exes snipe at each other, family feuds become public, and you witness a former classmate arguing peak oil with a teacher he hasn’t seen in decades. Facebook’s big box approach, combining photos, groups, conversations, and short updates, makes it the Wal-Mart of social media.  And yet, Facebook’s flaws may also be the source of its longevity. Let’s face it: people like to be angry, indignant, and most of all, RIGHT. Facebook is the place to go when you want to share condescending political memes or argue with the moron who works across the hall. I’d like to see this platform lose its popularity to something more motivational, like a git-er-done cross between TED Talks and Kickstarter. I prefer to light a fire under myself, not watch it scorch the fields of my kingdom.

Pinterest as Earth

Pinterest is the digital incarnation of a physical object: the bulletin board. The logo is a stylized bulletin board pin. The content curated here revolves around the material world: recipes, craft projects, DIY hacks, interior design, fashion, art, travel. The ostensible purpose of Pinterest is to allow people to grasp their floating plans and ideas from the ether and anchor them in one place in order to manifest them into physical reality. Unfortunately, many users don’t move from pinning to doing. If Narcissus opened the first Instagram account, the lotus-eaters are on Pinterest, anesthetizing themselves against the credit card bill by consuming images of perfectly remodeled bathrooms. Regardless, Pinterest is an excellent tool when used correctly, which means not going to the website to surf mindlessly. Instead, when you’re roaming through the internet, looking for a way to fix your leaky windows, and among all the cat videos you actually find a tutorial, move the mouse to the Pin button on your toolbar and spear that wildebeest! At the hardware store two weeks later, you can pull up the list of materials needed and get to work.

Rock Smashes Scissors

How would you apply these correspondences to your social media strategy? You might petition Mercury on Wednesday for more Twitter followers, or make a short list of possible hashtags and then use bird auguries to choose which ones to use. Auguries aren’t always accurate so I’d keep a journal and try all the hashtags from my list over the course of a month, keeping track of which ones performed the best and whether that aligned with the divination results.  

If you’re wasting time on Facebook, work with water to put out that fire. Have lots of ideas but don’t bring them to completion? Nail down those thought balloons. Make a secret Pinterest board (that is, one not visible to your followers) and title it with the name of your top goal/idea that you want to work on. Make a list of actions you must complete in order to reach your goal, and make a pin for each one.  Enchant the board, possibly with a Sun/Mars or Jupiter working. I wouldn’t rely on spells or workings in the digital realm as a primary strategy though. My ultimate goals all exist in the intersection of the physical and spiritual planes, so that’s where I spend most of my time working. But if you need to control or direct your social media activity, look to the elements and introduce balance.